Archive for October, 2006

Composting Toilet

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Flush toilets (and the mega sewer systems that go with them) waste a lot of water and destroy ecosystems. Septic tanks are mini versions of the municipal mess makers. Besides, why would you want to flush something away that can help you build great topsoil and grow tasty vegetables?

Becky and I both read The Humanure Handbook by Joseph C. Jenkins. (This is the authoritative text on composting human waste.) We decided to go with the bucket based model described in the book because it was simple, effective and inexpensive. I’d actually built and used one of these for a couple of years back in the U.S. and found it to be a great system. We used scavenged wood for the base and legs. Becky’s cousin, Paul, happened to have an unused, deluxe wood and brass toilet seat in his garage. The most expensive bits were the buckets at NZ$6 each.

Bucket throne

We decided to put the toilet in the garage (which we use as a storage area and workshop) because it features a short and clear path to the outside. We didn’t want to have to carry our crap too far and we wanted to minimise the risk of catastrophic spillage mishaps. Becky put a curtain around it for privacy.

We’re happy to report that the bucket is filling up nicely. (And it doesn’t smell!!!)

Feeding Time on the Farmlet

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Most evenings, just before dusk, Kevin and I walk up into the paddock with three buckets of treats — one for each of our beloved cows. The contents of the buckets depend on what scraps we have generated during the day. Lemon and orange peels are very popular, as are avocado skins. The absolute favourite seems to be kiwifruit skins. Sometimes we add a handful of palm kernel to the buckets if there are not many scraps.

Apart from the fact that we just enjoy spending a bit of time with our bovine friends, we also have some practical reasons for these daily visits. For one thing, it’s a chance for us to check up on the animals, the pasture, the water trough, and the salt and kelp rations that we leave out for the animals to pick at. For another thing, our evening visits ensure that the cows are used to being handled, and are in the habit of running over to us when we arrive with the bucket. This should make life a lot easier when it comes time for milking! Since we do not have a dog to herd our cattle, it’s a big help that the cows are in the habit of following us.

Becky cuddles and feeds the heifers

Esmerelda, Queen Bucket Brain

Kevin usually feeds Esmerelda her treats, while I feed Rosie and Coco. A bit of extra care needs to be taken with Esmerelda, because of her horns, so it’s easier to manage her on her own. Rosie and Coco have been together all their lives, and are used to being looked after as a pair. All three cows love to be rubbed, patted, and fussed over. Rosie was quite wary of us for a start, but by now she lets me rub and pat her for ages. Coco has been like a big teddy bear since the day she got here! As for Esmerelda, she likes attention too, but since The Ambler got here (about a month ago now) she’s often in such a hurry to get back to her boyfriend that she rushes away as soon as she’s eaten her treats. The Ambler was not hand reared like our cows, so he’s not too interested in being fussed over and given treats in a bucket. Sometimes he wanders over to see what the cows are up to, but usually he just keeps on chewing grass contentedly somewhere up the paddock.

Busy Days in the Garden

Monday, October 9th, 2006

There is a lot to do in the garden at the moment: more seeds to start, seedlings to transplant, new garden beds to be dug, and trellises and other supports to put together. I’ve just finished digging a new bed for some globe artichoke seedlings. Today we also planted the first curcurbits of the season — an heirloom zucchini called “black beauty.” I hope we are not planting them out too early. To judge by how warm the soil feels on my fingers, they should do just fine.

When we look around us now, the whole world is covered in the bright green of spring. Our pasture seems to be growing faster than the cows can eat it. The grape vines are covered in leaves, and bumble bees are visiting the flowering fava (broad) beans. Readers of Cryptogon might remember the garlic that we planted back at mid-winter on top of a big batch of fish carcasses. The garlic seems to like its diet of fish, and has really taken off now that the weather has warmed up.

Broad beans


As well as being busy in the garden, I’ve been working on a drawing, which is to be a thank you gift for some people who have been extremely kind and generous to Kevin and me. It’s been a long time since I did any drawing! It feels good to have pencils and crayons in my hands again after so long, and it’s nice to be able to give a gift that we’ve made ourselves.

I guess it’s time for an update on the batch of bok choi kimchi that I wrote about a while back. I’m afraid the news is not good. That batch of kimchi looks fine, and it fermented well, but (alas!) it tastes disgustingly salty. I must have become muddled and added the salt twice or something. Yuck. The cows have eaten some of it. Kevin put it out with their salt and kelp rations. (Kikuyu grass, which makes up the bulk of our pasture, doesn’t do a very good job of pulling sodium out of the soil. Animals on a kikuyu-based diet need plenty of supplemental salt rations.) That kimchi tasted like one big monster salt ration to me, so I hope it does our animals some good. The other batches of kimchi that I’ve made recently have turned out fine, including one that contains more of the bok choi from the garden. So, despite one failure, we still have plenty of kimchi to eat.

Spring Rain On Our Garden

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Our garden is drinking up the warm spring rain that has been falling over the past few days. The young tomato plants (just transplanted into the garden) have perked up, and the peas seem to be growing even as we watch. We are now picking all the collard greens we can eat, plus a few more to give away. We are also harvesting a good deal of lacinto kale, and a few leaves of a beautiful plant called red orach. Red orach can be used like spinach, but its tender leaves are a stunning shade of pink. So far, it seems to be growing well, and has been untroubled by pests. Kevin and I have never grown red orach before, but we may well be planting more of it in seasons to come.

Today, I slipped outside between showers of rain and constructed a frame out of bamboo and twine for the runner beans to climb up. After that, it was time to plant the bean seedlings in the damp earth next to the new structure. The variety of runner beans we’ve chosen is an heirloom with the colourful name, “painted lady.” The flowers should be two-tone red and white. We hope that they will make a beautiful and tasty display next to the path that leads to our front door.

Lacinto kale and red orach picked fresh for lunch

Just planted: painted lady runner bean seedling

Rain, Glorious Rain

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

As the Northern Hemisphere heads into Fall, down here on the Farmlet, Spring is heating up.

And drying everything out.

The weird, early dry weather seemed to increasingly creep into conversations no matter where we went in recent days. People would comment on how nice the clear, sunny days were, and then follow up with something like, “I hope we get some rain soon.”

It’s somewhat ominous that the lack of rain is pervading the collective consciousness around here this early in the season. The dairy farmers in the area were starting to twitch a bit.

Thankfully, this morning, the heavens opened up and we have received a decent soaking. The rain has continued, on and off, throughout the day, and has been very heavy at times. Water tables are rising, streams are flowing and tanks are topping up.

Our spring sourced, gravity fed water supply should be ok as it is now, but we want to overbuild our “infrastructure” to ensure that we will have more than ample capacity to irrigate our garden and water our stock. There is a small area, at the base of a very steep part of our pasture, that becomes quite boggy when it rains. As soon as we can afford it, Becky and I want to hire an earth mover to construct a dam/pond in this area. With a little assistance from us, this naturally occurring bog would make a beautiful pond based microclimate while providing a bit of water insurance for the Farmlet.